This material is also available in a PDF format: Anxiety: Suggestions for families [350KB]

Children with anxiety difficulties tend to see the world as a scary place. They can be overly sensitive to their feelings and lack confidence in their own ability.

How you can help

Parents and other adults can help by supporting children to be brave. In order to be brave children need to have skills for understanding and managing their feelings. They need to learn about helpful thinking that they can use to encourage themselves to have a go, and they need to gradually build up their confidence by taking on small challenges.

Help to recognise and understand anxiety

A first step in helping children gain some control over anxiety is recognising when it occurs and how it affects them.

Model helpful coping

Being a good model involves showing children how to cope with emotions (not just telling them). Show children with anxiety how you use helpful self-talk in a difficult situation (eg “This looks a bit scary, but I’ll give it a go”).

Discourage avoidance

Sometimes when children say they feel sick, they are describing feeling anxious. It is important that children do not avoid things like school or homework unnecessarily.

Praise having a go

Encourage children with anxiety to attempt new things and praise them for trying. It is very important to emphasise trying rather than success when anxiety is an area of difficulty.

Introduce challenges gradually

Children build strength and resilience by learning to face challenges. It is important to begin with small challenges that children can meet. For example, a child who is frightened of dogs might start by walking past the house when the dog is barking without having to cross the road. This improves confidence for taking on more challenging steps.

Start small

Help the child to choose goals for becoming braver and to take small steps towards achieving them. Celebrate his or her success at each step. Experiencing even small successes helps to reduce anxiety.

Practise coping skills

Practise using coping strategies for challenging situations. Help children talk about problems and support them to come up with possible solutions.

Try not to get angry

If a child simply refuses to do something even after you have encouraged him/her and broken the task into steps, it may simply be overwhelming at that time. Sometimes, you need to back off and praise the child for doing as much as he or she could. Later, try again with smaller steps and encourage your child to have a go, one small step at a time.